When I was a pre-teen, I begged my parents to send me to horse camp every summer. I would listen enviously each September as my friend, Leah, told me all about her dreamy days there — days spent grooming and saddling horses, learning to trot and canter, galloping through beautiful golden fields. Time off the horses was spent swimming or learning archery or making crafts. It all sounded like heaven to me, like the camp in the original "Parent Trap" movie.

Instead I went to music camp. It was the logical choice, as I had been playing the violin since age 6, mostly enjoyed it, and usually received some sort of scholarship to attend the camp. A large portion of every day was devoted to practice or rehearsal, though I remember there being an elective period each afternoon where campers could choose a fun activity to do. I even went horseback riding a few times.

I learned some good skills at music camp and generally had a good time, but it wasn’t horse camp. While it was true that I liked playing the violin, I think I wanted something different for the summer. I wanted to see if maybe I was a “horse girl” like Leah. I wanted to go to a camp where I wasn’t expected to learn or improve, but just be. I think I was yearning for a camp that was more fun and less work, more play and less instruction.

Any kind of summer camp, whether it’s day camp or overnight camp, provides kids with opportunities they just don’t get during the school year. They can work as a team to plan a simulated mission to Mars at space camp; they can perform an entire play after only a week at acting camp. They can learn brand new skills or hone skills they already have. They can test out character qualities like courage by jumping off the high dive or telling scary ghost stories at night.

Camp provides kids an opportunity to be away from parents and teachers and friends, to sample different activities and see who they might be, to try out new parts of their emerging personalities. Summer camps, especially overnight ones, allow kids to experiment with independence, with leaving home, whether for a day or a week or a whole summer. It’s like a trial run for college and eventually adulthood.

By the time I reached high school, and was moving towards a music major in college, I actually wanted to go to music camp — an insanely intense one, where everyone practiced five hours a day. I am so grateful for that summer I spent in upstate New York, focused and working like mad, meeting other musicians who were as driven as I was.

Still, I regret not having spent at least one summer at horse camp, getting in touch with nature, earning badges for things like sweeping out the stalls or canoeing across the lake. Instead, I have lived vicariously through my kids, sending them all to horse camp three times. They rode horses all day long and swam in the pool every afternoon, coming home exhausted and happy. They learned lots of great life skills, but mostly they had fun, they played.

There are so many great camp options in northern Colorado Springs. Peruse the options with your kids and see what jumps out at them. It might be something totally opposite from the activities they normally do. Give them the chance to test the waters and try something different; offer them a camp that is simply “structured fun.” Those childhood summers are so few: give them the chance to just be.

Elizabeth Eden is a mom, writer, yoga instructor and musician. She lives in northern Colorado Springs with her big, beautiful, messy clan. In her free time, she enjoys wine, dystopian novels and documentaries on quantum physics.

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